Iranian seizure of British naval personnel shows need for diplomacy, U.S. religious leaders say

March 26, 2007

The delegation of U.S. religious leaders that visited Iran in February says the "Iranian seizure of British naval personnel underscores in dramatic fashion our call for diplomatic relations" between the U.S. and Iran.


The marines were captured March 23 while they were "engaged in routine boarding operations on a merchant ship in waters claimed by both the Iranians and Iraqis," reports claim.


"The U.S. and Iran should have the same channels as the United States did with the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War to avoid circumstances where misunderstandings, accidents, or other unanticipated events could lead to a military confrontation," said a March 23 statement [complete text below] by eight members of the delegation including Maureen Shea, director of the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations. A producer from NOW accompanied the 13 religious leaders on its recent trip to Tehran and the holy city of Qom.


"We must engage directly with Iran in order to reduce the increasing instability throughout the region," Shea said in a recent statement. "Our delegation has asked that both countries cease using language that defines the other as 'enemy,' and begin the direct talks essential to deescalating violence and to reaching common understandings. We have a long and complicated history with Iran, but the U.S. must recognize that it is an important country in the region and cannot and should not be shut out of our deliberations."


The leaders of Baptist, Quaker, Mennonite, Evangelical, United Methodist, Episcopal and Roman Catholic church groups were the first official American delegation of any kind to visit Iran in 28 years. They met with Iranian religious and government officials including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former President Khatami. THE PBS program NOW covered the trip. The program aired March 23 and is available here.


The statement's release came following a meeting of the delegation to plan future actions designed to help lessen tensions between Iran and the U.S.


The full statement follows.


US Religious Leaders Issue Statement Regarding Iranian-British Incident in the Gulf
Renew Call for Direct Talks with Iran


The incident today of Iranian seizure of British naval personnel underscores in dramatic fashion our call for diplomatic relations between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran does have an ambassador in London and we understand that communications between Great Britain and Iran are already underway. We pray that this matter will be resolved quickly and peacefully, without harm to human life.


The US and Iran should have the same channels as the United States did with the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War to avoid circumstances where misunderstandings, accidents, or other unanticipated events could lead to a military confrontation. That is why we again call for diplomatic ties with Iran, believing that a new day for US-Iran relations is both possible and necessary.


Mary Ellen McNish
General Secretary,
American Friends Service Committee


The Rev. Ron Flaming
Director of International Programs
Mennonite Central Committee


The Rev. J. Daryl Byler
Washington Office Director
Mennonite Central Committee


Joe Volk
Executive Secretary
Friends Service Committee on National Legislation


Jonathan Evans
Special Representative for Iran
American Friends Service Committee


Maureen Shea
Director, Office of Government Relations
Episcopal Church USA


The Rev. Dr. Shanta Devadasa Premawardhana
Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations
National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA


The Rev. Jeff Carr
Chief Operating Officer
Sojourner/Call to Renewal


* Organizations listed for affiliation purposes only